May 1, 2007
Fear and Vitriol in the Halls of Congress
By JOHN V. WALSH
Democrats in Congress are growing increasingly hostile toward their antiwar base. David Obey has provided the most notorious example upon a chance encounter with Marine Mom, Tina Richards, in a Congressional hallway. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS4wHMCc57k). Richards had tried to talk with Obey, her Congressman, for a long time, but he had successfully eluded her until this day. Now she and other antiwar activists were lobbying in the Capitol in an attempt to get "our" Senators and Representatives to cut off funding for the war. Not surprisingly, Obey gave the standard response when Richards asked why he continues to fund the war. "We don't have the votes," he shouted at her. To which the answer is of course: "Congressman, we only want your one vote, and your help in getting the rest. You cannot win if you do not fight." Talk to any Dem politician and he or she will tell that they on your side but the others are the problem. So the votes are not there collectively, but individually everyone is on the side of peace. That is a very strange calculus.
The odious aspect of the encounter was that Obey set about attacking the Marine Mom and the handful of Democrats who, unlike him, refused to vote supplemental funding for the war. "Idiot liberals," was the first outburst, followed by: "The liberal groups are jumping around without knowing what the hell is in the [supplemental funding] bill"; "You're smoking something illegal"; and "If you guys don't stop screwing it up," we will end the war. Finally an aide pulled him away and he waddled through a door and slammed it shut in Richards face. What is wrong here? Why would he treat this worried mother in such a shabby way?
It is not just Obey; he just happened to get caught on camera. When we went to visit Senator Kerry's aide here in MA we got the same response. We were just "a bunch of liberals." Senator Kerry, the aide said petulantly, is trying to do "some good in the world", not just trying to "feel good" like "you liberals." And again from my "liberal" Congressman Capuano, the same thing. Capuano assured us that he was trying to do some real good in the world unlike "the liberals" who voted against the supplemental. Again the anger at the "liberal" groups and the ten Congresspeople (two of them Republicans) who voted against the supplemental out of opposition to the war was ferocious. Why is this?
I submit that these Democrats are running scared. They know that their antiwar base is crucial to winning their next election. Without it they might lose in 2008. In strongly antiwar districts like Capuano's in Massachusetts or Obey's in Wisconsin, there is a real danger of losing their Congressional seats, than which nothing is more important to them. And the few genuine antiwar voices in their party, Dennis Kucinich or Barbara Lee, for example, make then look bad by comparison. They wish these bothersome liberals would just go away. What if a strong antiwar Democrat were to appear in the next primary or what if a Green should run in the general against them in '08? Can they win if their antiwar base is fed up with them and turns elsewhere? And what if they also face a strong Republican opponent, which is Kerry's problem in '08?
The same dynamic showed up in the recent MoveOn town hall meeting, which featured phone presentations and questions for each of the antiwar candidates, meaning Democratic candidates. (Libertarian Ron Paul was not invited, unsurprisingly since MoveOn is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.) A vote was taken afterwards on the favorite candidate of the antiwar participants, and the results were headlined as "Clinton suffers virtual defeat in MoveOn vote on Iraq," or "Clinton Bombs in Liberal Straw Poll.
With 43,000 people responding, the numbers were: Obama, 28 per cent; Edwards, 25 per cent; Kucinich, 17 per cent; Richardson, 12 per cent; Clinton, 10 per cent; with only Biden and Dodd lower. The interpretation is simple. If you are seen as pro-war, your prospects are dim. True to form, having taken the poll, MoveOn quickly disappeared the results from its web site. One can be fairly certain that the Dem hierarchy was displeased with the results for HRC and ordered the whole thing air brushed away. MoveOn dutifully obliged.
The striking thing about the poll is how well Kucinich did. He is the only one in the entire pack who can legitimately claim to be antiwar. Obama and Edwards were ahead of him only because they are widely perceived, or more accurately misperceived, as antiwar. And of course they get tons of sympathetic coverage in the mass media. But their true colors are becoming ever clearer. Recently (4/29) in the Washington Post, the rabid neocon Robert Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, adviser to the McCain campaign and lead proponent of war on Iran, heaped praise on Obama for being an advocate of pre-emptive war and of increasing the army and marines by tens of thousands of troops. ( For his part Edwards is now exposed by Senator Durbin's disclosure that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee knew that the administration was lying in the lead-up to the war on Iraq. Durbin excuses himself from hiding the truth from the public by saying the committee was sworn to secrecy. But that was a time to come forward with the truth and take the consequences--even jail--to stop a war based on lies. And it is even worse to have been on that committee and to have voted for the war. John Edwards was on that committee. John Edwards voted for the war. It turns out that John Edwards did in fact know then what he knows now! Durbin is the second Senator to have outed Edwards in this way, the first being former Senator Bob Graham.
The Democrats are in an awful bind. They have been complicit in this war from the beginning--up to their necks in the death and destruction every bit as much as W. That provides an opening for a new start in American politics. But this means that the Greens and the Libertarians must seize the moment, overcome their dysfunctionality and pose a serious challenge to the two War Parties. The Democrats are on the run; will we go get 'em? Will we live up to the challenge?
John Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com. He encourages one and all to join the many thousands who have signed the petition at WWW.FilibusterForPeace.org. It only takes 41 of the 51 Democratic Senators to bring the war on Iraq to an end. They have the power. Why do they not use it?